Letting the sunshine in: Marco Island has yet to embrace solar power
Florida gets the most sun east of the Mississippi, but it ranks 16th in the nation for solar production. What gives?
Florida was dubbed the Sunshine State in 1970, and it’s no mystery why; the state has a year-round subtropical climate and boasts an average of 230 sunny days a year. Yet despite the abundance of such a powerful natural resource, solar power technology on Marco Island remains scarce, and to some residents, that is a mystery.
Although solar power has been a hot topic of discussion since the technology was first introduced, it enjoyed a moment in the sun during November’s election with an amendment on the ballot that proponents claimed would “promote solar while allowing for consumer protection laws to keep solar scam artists out of Florida.”
In reality, however, the amendment was a move by utility companies to limit rooftop solar panel expansion, but the state’s most powerful utility companies failed to convince enough voters to adopt the amendment.
Amendment 1 received 51 percent of the vote and needed 60 percent to pass. There were 4.5 million votes in favor, or 51 percent, and 4.3 million votes against, or 49 percent.
Just because the amendment failed doesn't mean the conversation about solar power stopped; a Marco Island resident recently said she thought it was "criminal" that the island, its city and its businesses haven't made more of an effort to embrace the green technology.
Councilor Howard Reed expressed a similar sentiment during his City Council campaign, albeit with a more positive spin.
“Marco Island should be an incubator for high-tech ideas,” he said during the final city council candidate forum on October 19 when asked what types of businesses and services the island lacked.
He noted that the island has an abundance of unique natural resources – sunshine, salt water, etc. – that, if properly utilized by businesses, could be extremely beneficial to the community.
More recently Reed supported councilor Joe Batte's future agenda item for the city to look into installing streetlights on Bald Eagle Drive, and used it as an opportunity to recommend solar-powered lights.
“I believe that (Public Works Director) Tim Pinter was directed to look into the possibility and possible costs (of installing streetlights on Bald Eagle)," he said, "and it was suggested ... that that include LEDs, and I would simply like to ask that they look into solar, as well.”
Unfortunately, that type of solar power technology currently does not exist, Pinter said.
"Because of the intensity of the light and the color bands, solar does not generate enough power to illuminate the street lights," he said. "We are however, only using LED lights going forward for all our city-owned street light installations."
He also said he could not answer why the city doesn't have solar panels on its buildings.
Meanwhile, other establishments off-island have warmly embraced solar panels.
Jim Henderson, the sole owner of William C. Huff Cos. in East Naples, a moving and storage company for "discerning clientele," recently installed a solar system on his roof that's big enough to power a 34,000-square-foot building and a 10,000-square-foot expansion of its warehouse.
Henderson flipped the switch on solar power at his headquarters more than a year ago, and switching to solar can be even more advantageous to homeowners because they don't face the same regulatory issues with utility companies that business owners do, he said.
"There's misinformation about solar and its benefits, and misinformation is different than ignorance," he said in a previous interview. "The fact that we can now harness the sun I think is the coolest thing ever."
Rob Moher, president and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said in a previous interview Henderson is a leader in the business community when it comes to advocating for solar, with the largest solar system on a commercial building in Collier County.
"Solar is a more sustainable energy source," he said. "Also, traditional power sources tend to use a lot of water, and water is a finite resource in Florida. So we are very supportive of power generation that does not require a lot of freshwater resources."